Florida State League Top 20 Prospects
By Josh Boyd
He opened the season with 35 consecutive innings without an earned run. Though Beckett hadn't pitched in the FSL since June, his dominant run was still fresh in his opponents' minds. He continued to excel in Double-A and the majors, which won him the Player of the Year award.
Behind Beckett, four of the next five best prospects were promising young position players, led by Charlotte third baseman Hank Blalock. He was nearly Beckett's equal at the plate, hitting .380 in the first half.
Tampa outfielder Mitch Jones led the league with 21 home runs and reminded some of Shane Spencer with his muscular build and power potential, but he couldnt crack the Top 20. Neither could hard-throwing relievers Anthony Ferrari, Adam Roller and Greg Runser, a testament to the quality of pitching throughout the league.
Brevard County Manatees (Marlins)
Beckett was restricted by shoulder ailments in his 2000 debut, but nothing stood in the 21-year-old righthander's way this year. He rapidly evolved into more than just a flamethrower by exhibiting pinpoint command of an overpowering three-pitch arsenal. Hitters couldn't sit on his explosive mid-90s fastball with his hammer curveball and much-improved changeup in the back of their minds.
"He was head and shoulders above everybody," Daytona manager Dave Trembley said. "He was every bit as good as Kerry Wood when he was here. He could dominate any day."
And not even Wood was named Minor League Player of the Year. Beckett limited FSL hitters to a .145 average while surrendering earned runs in only three of his 12 starts.
"He's definitely a future No. 1 starter," Charlotte manager Darryl Kennedy said. "He's a complete pitcher."
2 HANK BLALOCK, 3b
"Everything we threw up there, he hit," Lakeland manager Kevin Bradshaw said. "Wow, hes got the whole package."
Blalock answered the concerns about his power by clubbing 37 doubles and 18 home runs between Charlotte and Double-A Tulsa. An intelligent, disciplined hitter, hes developing loft power in his picturesque, balanced stroke.
Blalock also responded to concerns about his defense and was named the FSLs best defensive third baseman by managers. His future at the position has been clouded by the arrival of 2001 first-rounder Mark Teixeira, but Blalock possesses an above-average arm and enough agility to handle a move to the outfield.
3 BRANDON PHILLIPS, ss
After hitting .242-11-72 at low Class A Cape Fear in 2000, he made his most impressive strides with his strike-zone judgment. He needed just 55 games in Jupiter to equal his walk total for all of the previous season. Hes also developing more power and stole 30 bases between the FSL and Double-A.
"He's rough around the edges," Trembley said. "But the ball makes a different sound off of his bat."
Defensively, Phillips owns a cannon arm and displays excellent first-step quickness. He made 18 errors in 55 FSL games, but was much steadier after his promotion.
"He's driven to be the best," Jupiter manager Tim Leiper said. "When he sees other players playing well, he wants to do better. He can beat you with his glove, bat or on the bases."
4 NIC JACKSON, of
Trembley credits Daytona hitting coach Richie Zisk for helping Jackson adjust his swing to create backspin on the ball. Jacksons power output rose from six homers in 74 games in 2000 to 19 in 131 contests this year despite bypassing low Class A and playing in the FSL's spacious ballparks.
"Nic wants to get better and he's receptive to instruction," Trembley said. "You don't have to remind him to play the game."
Jackson's slightly below-average arm is the only tool standing between him and a five-tool profile. He has a chiseled physique with less than 2 percent body fat.
"The thing I like about him is he's a slender, tall kid who will put on weight," Bradshaw said. "I think he's definitely a major leaguer."
5 RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, rhp
After jumping two levels to the FSL, Rodriguez responded with another strong performance and led the league in strikeouts. He also was named the leagues most valuable pitcher.
He throws a two-seam fastball in the 91-93 mph range but isnt considered overpowering. Managers were impressed with his ability to change speeds and utilize his curve and changeup at any point in the count. They also liked his competitive nature.
Rodriguez still needs to become more consistent with his mechanics, but hes on the fast track.
6 JUSTIN MORNEAU, 1b
"Hes a pure hitter who will hit for average and power," Kennedy said. "If you make a mistake, hell make you pay."
Morneaus 6-foot-4 frame contains prodigious power. Bothered by knee and elbow injuries as a catcher, he made improvement at first base in his first season out from behind the plate. His biggest weakness is his lack of speed.
"He reminds me of John Olerud," Tampa manager Brian Butterfield said. "He has big-time hitting ability."
7 BRANDON CLAUSSEN, lhp
Claussen, who made his final nine starts of 2000 season in Tampa, was dominant the second time through, registering double-digits in strikeouts in three of his eight starts. The lefthander improved the velocity and command of his fastball, which features plus-plus life and tops out at 93-94.
He also bettered his big, tight curveball and changeup. Those pitches were instrumental in him leading the minors in strikeouts with 220 in 187 innings.
"He gets all three of his pitches over the plate," Bradshaw said. "He pitches inside and works with a great tempo."
8 BILLY TRABER, lhp
Traber operates with four pitches and paints both sides of the plate with impeccable command of a moving 89-91 mph fastball. He'll mix in a good splitter a few times a game to keep hitters off balance.
"He has the full makeup of a solid major league lefthander," St. Lucie manager Tony Tijerina said. "He's very intelligent and confident. He's a rare type. Once he grasps command of the changeup, it will be a vital pitch."
9 RYAN DITTFURTH, rhp
"His curveball is pretty good to lefthanders," Dunedin manager Marty Pevey said. "And he has command of his changeup. That's saying a lot."
Charlotte pitching coach Fred Dabney said Dittfurth has become more consistent with his mechanics and more confident of his ability to go after hitters. Hes still wild at times, as evidenced by his 15 wild pitches and 17 hit batsmen.
10 MIGUEL ASCENCIO, rhp
Ascencios fastball has plus velocity (92-94 mph) and life. He also demonstrated an advanced feel for mixing speeds and locations.
"He reminds me of Ricardo Rodriguez, but he has a better arm," Butterfield said. "He changes speeds and has a good arm and a lively, above-average fastball."
11 ANDERSON MACHADO, ss
Despite making his second trip to Clearwater, Machado was still among the FSL's youngest regulars, and he again earned the title of best defensive shortstop. In addition to his strong arm, he showed soft hands and outstanding range.
"Defensively, he could go right now in the big leagues," Pevey said. "He wore this league out."
While managers talk glove first when it comes to Machado, he showed marked improvement at the plate after hitting .245-1-35 in 2000. However, he did struggle again after a July promotion to Double-A, and one FSL manager questioned Machado's future power potential and his offense in general.
12 SEUNG SONG, rhp
Song isn't overpowering, though his fastball creeps into the 92-93 mph range and he shows outstanding rotation on his curveball. Hes aggressive with his fastball and goes right after hitters.
"When you talk to hitters, theyll tell you hes sneaky," Bradshaw said. "They cant catch up to it well, it gets on them real quick."
Song is a drop-and-drive pitcher with fundamentally sound mechanics. He limited FSL hitters to a .164 average and didn't allow more than two runs in any of his eight starts.
"He has great command and a flawless delivery," Vero Beach pitching coach Marty Reed said. "He has command of all his pitches. Hes smart and does all of the little things out there."
13 GABE GROSS, of
Toronto is intrigued with the football mentality that Gross brings to the diamond, plus he can flat-out rake and has drawn comparisons to Mike Greenwell. He quickly made adjustments to FSL pitchers, who didn't give in to him and often pitched him backwards.
Pevey said Gross has light-tower power, and he homered twice in his Double-A debut after a late-season promotion. He also has above-average arm strength, though hes trying to improve his overall defensive play.
14 WILKEN RUAN, of
Bradshaw compared him to a young Willie Wilson, though Ruan's strike-zone judgment has room for improvement. He needs to shorten up his swingespecially because he lacks powerand display more patience to take advantage of his blinding speed. His defense is another strength.
"He's been great. Our field is huge and he saves us in center field," Leiper said. "He runs under everything and his arm is strong and accurate."
15 CHASE UTLEY, 2b
"He needs to see a lot more lefthanders," Butterfield said. "In order to an be everyday player and move up the ladder, hes going to have to hit lefthanded pitching."
Utley batted just .203 against southpaws. He also needs to continue to improve his defense, though his footwork and ability to turn the double play improved.
He should hit. Utley yanked a 97-mph Juan Cruz fastball into the right-field seats at Safeco Field during the Futures Game, and Pevey said Utley could develop into a Ryne Sandberg-type hitter. He may be too pull-conscious at this point.
"He's the type of guy we saw not swing the bat well, but you could tell it was there," Tijerina said. "He has the potential to hit for average and power."
16 LUIS GARCIA, 1b
He has made major strides in each year with the bat. This season, he launched a career-high 40 doubles and 21 home runs between Sarasota and Double-A Trenton.
"He has a loose swing," Butterfield said. "He's a lot like Richie Sexson, with that tall, angular body."
Garcia still is learning to play first base. He has a wiry, athletic body and may be able to move to the outfield
17 NICK REGILIO, rhp
Regilio started the league all-star game for the Western Divison and twirled a perfect game in his final Class A start. He throws three pitches for strikes: a 90-93 mph fastball, slider and change.
18 GREG MONTALBANO, lhp
Montalbano held FSL hitters to a .201 average with a 90-91 mph fastball, above-average curve and change. Managers were impressed with his poise as well as his stuff. Butterfield said Montalbano had the best fastball command in the league.
"He gets his breaking ball over the plate when behind in the count," Brevard County manager Dave Huppert said. "He works the inner half of the plate to righthanders and kept us off stride."
19 RYAN MADSON, rhp
Madson has a loose arm and a 91-93 mph fastball. His overhand curveball shows the makings of giving him a second plus pitch.
20 FREDDY SANCHEZ, ss
Sanchez displays above-average range and mobility at shortstop with soft hands and a quick release. His arm is just average and he may be better suited for second base, which is a greater need in Boston than shortstop. Scouts and managers credited Sanchez for his gritty play and natural baseball instincts.
"He's a plus defender but I was really attracted to the way he swung the bat," Butterfield said. "He's tough to K. He just wore us out."
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